Striking In 1994-95 vs. Struck-down 2020 Phillies

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

With hope on the horizon, the Philadelphia Phillies could be days away from televised exhibition contests, but can the stars align with the baseball gods for 60 games? Yes, but the 20-contest schedule against the American League East will be one four-game series, and --location-wise-- it might benefit a National League East rival. 

 

Nature's Fist: 

After seemingly non-stop pandemic coverage competed with binge-watching for the eyeballs of the Phillies faithful, 60 contests won't be 2020’s top baseball issue. No, the national pastime will be a welcomed relief from this appearingly endless factor.     

IN OTHER WORDS:       

"Human destiny is bound to remain a gamble because at some unpredictable time and in some unforeseeable manner nature will strike back." - Rene Dubos

Phillies Schedule:

  • 60 games: 10 each against four NL East teams and four apiece versus five AL East clubs.

For the lords of baseball, the 1994 campaign was their attempt at initiating a salary cap to reduce spending and limit free agency. But the players went on strike and refused to accede even if there would be no 1995 games. Translation: no way!                           

In ‘94, the Fightins played 115 contests with a 54-61 record on August 11 for fourth place. They were 20.5 games behind the first-place Montreal Expos (74-40), who had a six-game advantage over the Atlanta Braves (68-46). So, the Phils missed 47 contests in an October with no World Series.     

Even though the ‘95 red pinstripes finished in second place after the campaign had begun on April 26, they were 21 games behind the Braves. Atlanta had a 90-54 mark to the 69-75 Phillies who tied the New York Mets for second place. Ergo, missing 21 contests did not affect the Fightins.      

The MLB and the MLBPA demonstrated their positions through orchestrated leaks. Occupation-wise, unions and management are confrontational by nature, and the majors are no exception. But although these tensions and strategies exist elsewhere, here the timing and publicity were brutal.

Needing an escape, fans instead received a preview of the debate over the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) expiring after the 2021 season. Hopefully, ‘21 won’t be another abbreviated campaign with unpopular rules for traditionalists, but fate will be in the government’s hands: federal, state and local. 

For now, MLB’s COVID-19 rules involve players being in a bubble. To illustrate, they pertain to more than air high fives and other celebrations: locker spacing, no after-game showers, and no hanging around after the contest. Yeah, totally different!                         

Because the situation is fluid, locations, rosters, and plans can change between now and July’s Opening Day. Presently, each organization will have 30 active players reduced to 28 after two weeks and 26 after another two weeks. But each team will also have a 30-man taxi squad with three men available due to an in-game injury.   

While some franchises may use two facilities before game one, 60 players will require training in staggered shifts regardless. And the Fightins will carry one catcher on their taxi squad with J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp on the active roster. Ergo, the extra receiver will always be available for an emergency.     

Some minor league facilities could have games for players who don’t even make a 30-man taxi squad, and Nashvillie has already been floating their city as a possible destination. Plus if Arizona and Florida can solve their current infection rate by the fall, they could have leagues for some youngsters missing MiLB action.     

Teams to Beat:

With a shortened camp and a two-month schedule, players will be fresh. And it won’t be a marathon, it’ll be a sprint to October. Meanwhile, firemen like David Robertson will be ready for the stretch drive in late July, and Joe Girardi may signal for him against the New York Yankees. 

The Phillies will have one four-contest series versus the Yankees. However, starter Luis Severino is out for the year, and slugger Aaron Judge has recovered from his injuries. But one was a collapsed lung, and the coronavirus is primarily a respiratory illness: He could opt out. Nah, he won’t!  

After 96 victories in 2019, the Tampa Bay Rays annually find a way to be competitive, and they’ve benefitted by some trades and free agent signings. Unfortunately, you won’t be familiar with many uniformed regulars and starters, but don’t take them lightly because they frequently discover a winning path.             

The Boston Red Sox have a cautionary tale for the Phils faithful because their president had paid top dollar for free-agent talent and captured the 2018 Fall Classic. Problem-wise, Boston had exceeded the CBT (competitive-balance threshold) of $197 million by over $40 million for ‘18 and then missed the postseason in ‘19.  

Despite not re-upping Craig Kimbrel, they were still $35.5 million over the $206 million CBT in 2019. But their supporters had expected more victories even with the tax penalties: They were none too happy. Well, the owner moved free-agent-to-be Mookie Betts after firing the president, and now ace Chris Sale is out for 2020.    

Compared to the Red Sox not being as dangerous, the Toronto Blue Jays will be interesting to watch from a surname perspective:  Biggio, Guerrero and Bichette. Yes, the sons of stars will be fun to eye if they don’t imitate their famous fathers in the games, but they’ll have growing pains.                 

And, lastly, the Baltimore Orioles will be without right fielder Trey Mancini: .291, 35 bombs, 97 RBIs, a 132 wRC+ and a 3.6 fWAR. Last summer, they suffered 108 defeats with his bat and power in the heart of the order. But don’t sleep on these youngsters because they have nothing to lose and a lot to prove.  

For social distancing, some players will be in the stands, and there will be no cheering or booing from fans. Plus the regulars will hear their home team’s broadcasters praising and criticizing them. In fact, those players could be aware of a mistake due to a friendly critique.    

According to Charles Barkley, the crowd propelled him with energy he was unaware of. However, that will be missing even if some fans are in the stands eventually.  

Charlie Manuel stated the game is 40 percent luck, but ‘20 must have a higher percentage: 50-60 percent? Unfortunately, I can only wonder what the former skipper thinks regarding the COVID-19 X factor.       

At any time, the virus or an injury --including unreported ones-- can claim a victim and change the season’s course if luck isn’t on your side. Favorably, though, the playoffs will mostly have NL and AL clubs who have not played each other since 2019 and a potential World Series with the same possibility.   

The old adage is you’ll see something in baseball you’ve never seen before, and it happens a handful of times during the standard 162. In 2020, though, when do I believe you’ll experience this phenomenon from Opening Day through October? Twice in July!   

 

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Phillies, MLB: 2020’s Baseball Purists’ Nightmare

 

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Phillies, MLB: 2020’s Baseball Purists’ Nightmare

Embed from Getty Images

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

While the Philadelphia Phillies faithful watch in horror as the summer days dwindle into July for the MLB, the pandemic-abbreviated season itself could spark fears for 2021 and beyond. Yes, the slippery slope of rule changes to accommodate economic and health concerns offers differences in the game you love.       

 

Bitter Ingredients:

The closure of the Phillies Clearwater facility was the proverbial tap on the shoulder for their front office and the entire MLB. In fact, this remember-me flare-up is impacting the locations and competitional elements for 2020’s contests, but whom will the rule changes also affect? The fans!                       

IN OTHER WORDS:

“Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.” - William S. Burroughs

If baseball has the wrong changes for purists, they will rail against it relentlessly and never forget the offending rules ruining the national pastime. But improvements or potential ruinations have been part of the sport from the beginning. And when you think about it, most fans have experienced changes even since 2010.   

To illustrate, hitting one back through the box was when there was a chalk box drawn on flat ground.for the hurler. With the introduction of the mound, though, the home team raised or lowered it depending on the starter, but eventually baseball established a uniform height.         

According to Chris Landers of Cut4, batsmen could tell the moundsman they wanted a low or high strike zone before every pitch. Low was from the knee to the belt, and high was from the belt to the shoulder. So, the Phillies followed this rule from 1883 through 1887 and its discontinuation.      

In my lifetime, 16 franchises have expanded to 30 organizations, and the postseason has grown from a possible seven games to a maximum 20 contests. Ergo, a club needed only four victories, but 12 triumphs is now the winning total for a wild-card team.                

For 2020 and maybe 2021, COVID-19 and government leaders will influence the MLB’s locations and seasonal length. Plus outbreaks, quarantines, and other restrictions will probably be mere detours for the lords of baseball.                       

Initially, roster construction involved the three-batter rule and a maximum of 13 hurlers on an active 26. But the pandemic will affect Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and his MLB contemporaries more when or if training camp begins again on July 1 at home parks.

Well, the sticklers will be none too happy with the DH (designated hitter) in the National League, and they will be extremely vocal if the DH is in place for ‘21 as well. Imagine their threats of no longer watching baseball because they blame commissioner Rob Manfred for the NL’s DH.             

What would push purists over the edge? Perhaps, the extra-innings rule for ‘20 is a real possibility because the 10th frame will start with a man on second base. He will be the last batter who made an out, and the ruling will be an error and an unearned run on the reliever’s line if he scores.          

If a knotted-up contest completes 12 innings, a tie game could be the outcome. Yes, Richie Ashburn and every deceased member in the Hall of Fame would be turning over in their graves. Oh, the horror!                 

It could be worse than suspended games for rainouts instead of makeup doubleheaders being seven-frame contests. So, a squad with a solid rotation and a top-tier closer won’t really have the advantage over their weaker-armed opponents. But day-night doubleheaders are still a possibility for complete washouts.        

Fortunately, sticklers won’t be able to grumble because the six divisions will still be the same, and the playoffs will as well. In fact, the Fightins will play their divisional rivals for 10 games apiece (40 total) and the American League East for four contests each (20 total).         

Will the Phillies play from Canada to Florida, or will the virus force the MLB to form a bubble-type configuration in southern California? Well, Florida and Arizona may have problems due to the present COVID-19 situation for three organizations and the Toronto Blue Jays if they can’t play there or their Florida camp.    

A bubbled-location MLB would need five sites to host three games per day or 15 contests involving 30 clubs. Basically, Los Angeles has three stadiums, and San Diego has two facilities: a doable backup plan! Moreover, they could be neutral sites if the coronavirus is problematic in Arizona, Florida and/or Toronto.           

Other possibilities involve two-team cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Translation: It may be safer in Queens than the Bronx, in Chicago’s south side than their north side, or in San Francisco than Oakland. Ergo, they can switch arrangements on the fly.                

Since only change is 100 percent, I’m not a purist and don’t believe in being upset over something I can’t control. But those who believe the opposite will have a difficult time deciding between a 2020 with multiple first-time rules or no baseball. Pick one!         

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Phillies: A Sluggers Curse from 1951 to 2020

                             

BITTER STEW


Phillies: A Sluggers Curse from 1951 to 2020

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the Philadelphia Phillies faithful, their aces and most stars receive cheers, but their sluggers and closers will always fail to achieve 99 percent success. And power hitters mostly shoulder the blame with the coaches, skipper, and general manager.       

 

No Early Title, No Praise:

Although huer (French for boo) is correct, perhaps, for hockey, baseball has added the English word boo to their Canadian brethren’s vocabulary along with the game’s other terminology. Now, when a Toronto Blue Jay boots a hard-hit grounder, he hears a chorus many Phillies fans will recognize.               

IN OTHER WORDS

They (Expos fans) discovered 'boo' is pronounced the same in French as it is in English.” - Harry Caray

According to Richard Rys of Philadelphia Magazine and Johnny Goodtimes of Philly Sports History, heckling dates back to the ancient Greeks. And jeering or cheering playwrights was almost a civic duty.

Continue reading "Phillies: A Sluggers Curse from 1951 to 2020" »


6 Roster Surprises for 2020’s Phillies

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Approaching Opening Day cautiously, the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans are hoping for televised-only games because something is still better than a lost season. In ‘20, six players will have the chance to earn a 2021 role.

Six New Opportunities:

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak could need one or two DHs (designated hitters), a third catcher, a right-handed bench bat, two bullpen pieces, and/or a pair of rookies. However, this situation isn’t routine because some players may pass on the abbreviated campaign due to health concerns. Or seize the day?  

IN OTHER WORDS:

One secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” - Benjamin Disraeli

Because of numerous loose ends, most GMs will not be active regarding acquisitions. So, don’t expect Klentak to do something significant if he does anything. He’ll have three weeks to sort out which players he’ll carry. 

With nothing certain, the likely offer from the lords of baseball to the MLB players association could be for 30 active players and a 40-man roster on hand. Or each franchise could have a 20-player taxi squad: another floated possibility. For top MiLB prospects, only Arizona and Florida fall leagues are considerations. 

Phillies Schedules:

  • 48 games: 7 each against 4 NL East teams and 4 apiece vs. 5 AL East clubs.
  • 52 games: 8 each against 4 NL East teams and 4 apiece vs. 5 AL East clubs.
  • 54 games: 6 each against 4 NL East teams and 6 apiece vs. 5 AL East clubs.

The problem with 54 contests is too many games against AL organizations, while 48 contests equal three at home and four away for five franchises. Moreover, 52 contests have the exact number for all 10 teams. And even though 52 games decreases revenue, the MLB prefers more time for those lucrative playoffs instead.    

With a possible active 30, the below list reveals 24 potentially filled slots. And even though one reliever on this list is questionable, he could be ready. Yes, David Robertson.

Phillies Roster Slots: 24

  • Rotation (6): Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Ranger Suarez or Vince Velasquez.
  • Bullpen (7): Hector Neris, Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, Nick Pivetta, and --if healthy-- David Robhertson.
  • Lineup (8): JT Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura, Adnrew McCutchen, Adam Haseley and Bryce Harper.
  • Bench (3): Jay Bruce, Andrew Knapp and Roman Quinn.

When Robertson cut loose his fastball in February, manager Joe Girardi wanted to slow down his likely second-half closer. But the hurler’s display matches his expectation of a July return. Now, he won’t be behind the other relievers, and he’ll push Hector Neris into the eighth-inning setup role.                      

Seranthony Dominguez had a solid first spring outing, but his elbow problem immediately resurfaced. Unfortunately, the recommendation was Tommy John surgery without the preferred second opinion due to the pandemic. Dominguez, now, will have the procedure and may miss 2021 as well.

In this abbreviated campaign, players or those having an immediate family member with underlying conditions could decide not to compete this summer. One could be Sean Doolittle, the Washington Nationals closer, who has repeatedly voiced concerns and wants proactive remedies, not reactive measures.                  

On the Fightins, Zack Wheeler could miss early August because his wife is due with their first child. And he insists he will be there for the joyous occasion, but must he self-quarantine for 14 days or longer? Moreover, he may not be the only star on the Phils or the other 29 organizations with concerns.   

Because the MiLB will be inactive this season, the red pinstripes may carry top prospects they don’t want to miss a developmental year. However, Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard are not on the 40-man roster, could prematurely burn two of 40 slots, and activate their MLB service-time clocks. An exception for only 2020?                             

Bohm could DH and make an occasional start at the hot corner to give Jean Segura a breather. Basically, his fielding is still a work in progress, but he moved to Clearwater in October to work on his defense for four months with the coaches. And his obvious plan is to star in the Show sooner rather than later. 

With Jay Bruce from the left side, Bohm could be the right-handed DH to face southpaws, while the other would be available to pinch-hit. But the Fightins have other alternatives like switch-hitter Roman Quinn, who is out of options. Perhaps, he could stay healthy for 48-54 contests.            

As for Howard, the Phillies will need a reliever to replace Dominguez, and employing a rookie in the relief corps is something the Los Angeles Dodgers have done for years. But Bohn’s teammate at Double-A with mid-90’s gas worked only 30 ⅔ innings with a 2.35 ERA. Criterion: Double-A success equals MLB-level talent.

While Howard could earn an opportunity to start or handle a setup function, Klentak may gamble on him as the staff’s 14th arm. He was a college reliever before becoming a starter there. However, management would expose two players with 40-man spots to waivers to promote Howard and Bohm.                              

If Klentak burns two roster slots, he has only Robert Stock on the 40-man roster for a tenth reliever and 15th pitcher. Otherwise, the higher-up must burn a third slot to add a non-roster veteran reliever, barring an injury. So don’t expect Bud Norris, Drew Storen, Francisco Liriano or Anthony Swarzak. 

The 28th player will probably be the third catcher presently on the 40-man roster: Deivy Grullon. Realistically, the Phillies will need a third receiver for emergencies, and J.T. Realmuto won’t leave many at-bats for Andrew Knapp as it is.          

With the rotation and pen accounted for, three reserves have a 40-man slot: Nick Williams, an infielder, and an outfielder. Yes, Williams could get enough at-bats as a DH to keep him sharp and ready to pinch-hit as well. But Klentak could also burn a spot for Neil Walker, Josh Harrison or Logan Forsythe.  

Even though the eastern division clubs will play each other, one wrinkle was a report the Pirates and Braves would switch divisions: puzzling! Perhaps, the lords of baseball feel the central division needs some additional competition, or they shelved the idea.              

To play in October, a team must have a top-16 record. And 2019’s Phillies were 16th at 81-81 despite multiple injuries and were three games behind the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox with their 84-78 marks. Yes, most clubs could win the 2020 World Series, but what wouldn’t be in the record books? An asterisk!

Bohm 2

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Phillies: Dick “Crash” Allen’s HOF Chances in 2020


Phillies: Dick “Crash” Allen’s HOF Chances in 2020

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

With fire in his eyes, Allen hammered a titanic blast through the wind and into the center field upper deck, and even Philadelphia Phillies broadcasters couldn’t contain their enthusiasm.  

According to Orlando Cepeda in a take elsewhere, Allen had fire in his eyes. Moreover, the spectators on that night rose to their feet in appreciation, plus By Saam and Richie Ashburn demonstrated the same excitement. Ashburn’s radio commentary: Whoa! Whhooooa!  

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